Froi of the Exiles (Chronicles of Lumatere #2)
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publication Date: 3/13/12
Publisher: Candlewick Press
From master storyteller Melina Marchetta comes an exhilarating new fantasy springing from her celebrated epic, Finnikin of the Rock.
Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home . . . or so he believes. Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been taken roughly and lovingly in hand by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper with a warrior's discipline. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds in its surreal royal court. Soon he must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad princess in this barren and mysterious place. It is in Charyn that he will discover there is a song sleeping in his blood . . . and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.
I always have a hard time reviewing these books: the ones that aren’t read so much as frantically consumed in a whirlwind of gluttonous book hedonism. Afterward I feel like, “What just happened to me? Yesterday is such a blur…a happy, sad, angry, intense blur.”
So, I’ll just apologize now, because this review probably won’t be very coherent.
This book begins like a lot of Melina Marchetta books. (In fact, I might say that all
of her best books begin this way.) There’s a mad jumble of names, events, and relationships spilled out in the first few chapters; it feels like not only a map (which is helpfully provided) but a family tree and a flow chart of some kind might be necessary to keep track of it all. It’s confusing. But, I am not some greenie; I am a Melina Marchetta veteran! I know by now to just keep reading. Sure enough, everything becomes clear (not to mention, extremely engrossing) in no time at all.
This book claims on the outside to be about Froi: the young thief and exile who becomes a dedicated Lumateran in Finnikin of the Rock.
And there’s no doubt that it is. But of course, we can count on Melina Marchetta for so much more than that. Every one of her books has a complete cast of consuming, vibrant characters and this book is no exception. This book is written in third person but shifts between the perspectives of four different relationships. So, as Froi takes up a dangerous errand and heads into Charyn, the notorious kingdom that once invaded Lumatere and incited a horrible curse, we also get to keep up with all his surrogate family left behind. For all of the Finnikin of the Rock
fans out there: rejoice! You’ll get plenty of time with Finnikin, Isaboe, Lucian, Lady Beatriss, Trevanion, Tesadora, and…Jasmina. I’m not going to tell you who that last one is; you’ll have to read this to find out!
I don’t even know where to start on the major themes of this book. In a way, this book is about the many facets of romance: infatuation, lust, companionship, love, betrayal, understanding, redemption. It’s also about identity, family, war, hatred, curses, misunderstandings, history, and perspectives. This is one hefty book and I’m not just referring to its massive size.
There were so many times where I thought, “No…she wouldn’t….
” But OF COURSE she would. There were also times that I assumed dark and dreadful things and she surprised me with lightness and grace. Everything that she writes just feels so true to life. Life isn’t tragic and dark and it’s not easy and wonderful either, but it is both of these at once. People aren’t just greedy or just good or just anything. A whore can be a mother, a severely damaged girl can be a born ruler, an outcast can be a diplomat, a once violent boy can be a healer of women, and an “evil” kingdom is much more than the sum of its parts. Perfect Musical Pairing
TV on the Radio – Family Tree
This song is about dark history, both inherited and remembered. I think that it’s also about how hatred can be fed and perpetuated across generations, but I think that it has a hopeful note too.
”Were laying in the shadow of your family tree
Your haunted heart and me
Brought down by an old idea whose time has come
And in the shadow of the gallows of your family tree
There's a hundred hearts soar free
Pumping blood to the roots of evil to keep it young”
The Lost Conspiracy
Author: Frances Hardinge
Publication Date: 9/1/09
Blurb(GR): Two young sisters who live on a beautiful island soon become caught in a deadly web of deceit. Neither girl is exactly what she pretends to be, and when they are drawn into a sinister conspiracy, one discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.Review:
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like The Lost Conspiracy
. Maybe that’s why this book isn’t very well known: it’s hard to describe, let alone label, package, and sell. This book is just amazing though; it’s like a triple whammy of great writing, fully realized and complex characters, and an amazing story. So seriously, just stop reading this review right now and go get it. Still here? Okay, okay, keep going. But just know that I will be harping on about this book in various and annoying ways until you all break down.
Hathin is the assigned caretaker for her sister, Arilou. This has been her sole, devoted purpose for her entire life. Arilou is thought to be one of the rare “Lost”: a group of people capable of sending their five senses away from their bodies to travel the island. Several hundred years ago, Gullstruck Island was colonized by outsiders, and over the centuries, the customs and traditions of the native people have been taken over or diluted by the pervading culture of the newcomers. The Lace, an extremely close-knit indigenous tribe, is the only remaining population that still remembers the old ways, and the dangerous consequences that will befall those that do not follow them. The rest of the island’s populations view the Lace with suspicion and fear. Their ways are foreign and illogical to the outsiders. There is a dark history that lies between the two groups that keeps the outsiders balanced on a dangerous edge between fear and rage. Arilou is the only Lost to ever be born into the Lace tribe. When a string of tragedies are blamed on the Lace, Hathin finds herself thrown onto the trail of a vast conspiracy. Hathin must escape with Arilou, and find the strength inside herself to lead, despite living in the shadows for her entire life.
The writing is spectacular – she infuses every sentence and paragraph with shadowy, sometimes threatening imagery. This book is darkly atmospheric; even the chapter titles are a bit haunting and they all have hidden meanings. My favorites are “No More Names” and “Death Dance.”
I am so completely impressed by the massive, sweeping scope of the world that she has built in this book. This is one hell of a world! Taking cues from tribal legends and practices from all over the globe (there’s a nice little acknowledgements section at the end), Hardinge creates a living, breathing, sinister place in Gullstruck Island. This is an island where the flora and fauna can unravel your soul, sing you to death, and loosen your senses away. The volcanoes have personalities, and they feud and love and prank. There are mysterious assassins who use cremation dust to give themselves magical powers, and ominous ancient legends that are all based in truth. The Lace are fully alive and meticulously drawn, and they have a hidden strength that no one sees.Our enemies think that Lace make good victims and scapegoats. They are wrong. They think that they can strike at us and we will do nothing but scatter and hide. They are wrong.
There were only a couple of times where I thought, “how will I keep track of it all?” because for the most part she so effortlessly weaves all this world-building into the story. And what a story! There’s a murder mystery, a revenge quest, and the genocide and enslavement of one group by another. Despite this incredibly foreign (to me) setting, the plight of the Lace is a tale as old as time (unfortunately).
Hathin develops and matures to a staggering degree in this book, and it’s very inspiring. I love the idea of her invisibility and seeming unimportance as strengths. I have to admit, the ending took me by surprise. I was expecting something much darker. I think that the fairy tale quality of this story sneaks up on you. It’s hard to see at first, through all the darkness and tragedy, but this is actually a powerful story of one girl coming into her own. Perfect Musical Pairing
Bjork – It’s In Our Hands
I think that Bjork, with her unique, bizarre, atmospheric, beautiful sound, is the perfect complement to this book. I had a hard time deciding which one of my many favorites would relate best . But I was eventually drawn to the lyrics (with me, it’s always the lyrics) of It’s In Our Hands. Look no further
Look no further
I look no
Always to ourselves
It mustn't get
Any better, off
It's in our hands
It always was
It's in our hands
In our hands
The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy #1)
Author: Clare B. Dunkle
Publication Date: 9/19/06
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Blurb(GR): "She had never screamed before, not when she overturned the rowboat and almost drowned, not even when Lightfoot bucked her off and she felt her leg break underneath her with an agonizing crunch. But now she screamed long and loud, with all her breath."
Hallow Hill has a strange and tragic history. For thousands of years, young women have been vanishing from the estate, never to be seen again. Now Kate and Emily have come to live at Hallow Hill. Brought up in a civilized age, they have no idea of the land's dreadful heritage-until, that is, Marak decides to tell them himself.
Intelligent, pleasant, and completely pitiless, Marak is a powerful magician who claims to be a king-and he has very specific plans for the two new girls who have trespassed into his kingdom. The Hollow Kingdom is a 2004 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
This book is exactly the type of fairy tale that I love the most. Now, I know that I have been outspoken in the past about my dislike of fantasies featuring caveman, bad-boy type hero characters. However, I think that I know and respect dozens of women who melt in the presence of these guys. Do I look down on my friends for their fantasy preferences? Absolutely not, because guess what? We all have a fantasy weakness. We all have that certain fairy tale that bypasses every logical part of our brains and just makes us feel giddy and excited. So, you can safely assume that mine is decidedly not the perfect specimen, territorial, alpha male. This book keys into the fairy tale that’s always turned me into a puddle of goo:
He’s ugly (but only on the outside, of course), a bit ruthless, desperate, smart, and he has one hell of a library. Except that in this book, he’s comfortable in his own skin, and he doesn’t turn into a foppish, effeminate prince in the end (which is what I always wished would happen).
This book is not going to go down in history as one of the greatest works of all time, but I can feasibly see myself re-reading it whenever I need a bit of comfort. It’s like the literary equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich. I was completely drawn in by
the prologue, and by the time the intelligent, practical, and resourceful heroine Kate and her plucky little sister Emily run into the Goblin King Marak I knew that this would become a favorite of mine.
Marak is the ruler of a colorful, dangerous race of goblins, dwarves, and elves who live within Hollow Hill. It is a long and traditional practice for the Goblin King to steal a human or elf bride and imprison her underground until the next King is born and his people are secure. When Kate inherits Hollow Hill after her father’s death, she and her sister become the wards of two elderly great aunts and a shady, pretentious cousin. Kate and her sister soon catch the eye of the Goblin King, but Kate is revolted and determined to escape his grasp at all costs.
As Kate and Marak engage in a battle of wills and wits, this book actually began to remind me of Pride and Prejudice. These two characters have a lot of preconceived notions and ideas about each other, and their verbal sparring is charged and exhilarating. Here is one of my favorite scenes:”’Indeed it is, Kate,’ Marak agreed. ‘It’s time to plan your revenge. Goblins just adore revenge.’ He grinned. ‘Do you have anything in mind?’
Kate was taken aback. ‘Revenge is wrong,’ she told him solemnly. ‘Vengeance belongs to God.’
The goblin put his head to one side and watched her through narrowed eyes. ‘You won’t even give God a little help?’ he asked softly.”
Kate is independent and powerful, but not unrealistically so. She’s a proper Englishwoman who reacts in realistic ways to her surroundings and the hideous goblin court. And by the end of this book, she fits the specs for all of my favorite female heroines: she’s determined, powerful, a bit merciless and bloodthirsty, and she has a sword (plus the most entertaining magical charm around).
My only “thirty year old woman” type gripe is that this book, despite being what I would class as a romance novel, is
clean enough to give to a ten year old. Which is actually great for when my daughters get a bit older, but the lack of anything even mildly suggestive felt like a big gaping omission to me.Perfect Musical Pairing
Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won’t Fall
This sugary sweet song is not something that I like to listen to all the time, but it’s a definite comfort food song for me. This is a song about falling harder than you thought you could for someone, who may or may not love you back.4/5 Stars
Author: Vera Brosgol
Publication Date: 6/7/11
Publisher: First Second
Blurb(GR): Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "Forever" part . . . Of all the things Anya expected to find atthe bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend--even a ghost--is just what she needs. Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, "Anya's Ghost "is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol. "Anya's Ghost" is a 2011 "Kirkus" Best Teen Books of the Year title. One of "School Library Journal"'s Best Fiction Books of 2011. One of "Horn Book"'s Best Fiction Books of 2011.Review:
It’s been a while since I’ve read a real
graphic novel that’s not just text with illustrations. So it may be partly because I’ve been missing the format, but I was completely blown away by this book. It made me remember everything that’s possible in a graphic novel, but impossible when the story is confined to mere words. Beyond that, I think that it takes an incredible amount of talent to convey so efficiently and precisely
the story, characters, emotions, and just everything in the space of a drawing. Vera Brosgol infuses every cell with so much meaning and emotion.
I think that I fell in love with Anya on about page two. She is a curvy, sarcastic, insecure, unmotivated, smart, snarky, dark, sweet Russian girl who wishes to be everything that she’s not. All of this comes across within the span of a few pages. There are very few words to this book, but any more would be simply unnecessary. The story is rich and detailed and complex as it is.
Anya has a hopeless crush on the school basketball captain, and an envious sort of hatred for his girlfriend, the perfect blonde Elizabeth. When she falls into a well one afternoon, she discovers that she’s not alone. The ghost of a young girl lingers there, her body left to desiccate for ninety years. Anya is scared at first, but soon she discovers just how useful a ghost can be.
There is a lovely message within these pages too. Anya feels so much like an outsider, and the bullying that she suffers as a child after immigrating to the U.S. encourages her to turn away from her identity and heritage. This is a
common feeling for young people who must start over in a new place, but it is also a feeling universally shared by teenagers. I think that a lot of young people have that insecurity, that feeling of ill-fitting discomfort, like your entire person just doesn’t quite belong anywhere. There can be a tremendous amount of pressure to change and mold and adapt yourself to assimilate. Anya rejects everything curvy and smart and Russian. But Anya finds out that not all that seems perfect actually is, and that it’s a good thing to be different.
This theme is nothing revolutionary, but the humor, the dash of the paranormal, and the fantastic artwork all contribute to the extraordinariness of this book. I highly recommend this for everyone.Perfect Musical Pairing
Regina Spektor – Raindrops
Regina seems like an obvious choice for this book, and this song is very fragile and sweet, like I imagine Anya is on the inside. This is a song about looking for connection and hoping to meet that special person that’s still unrevealed.4.5/5 Stars
Author: Mark Shulman
Publication Date: 9/14/10
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Tod Munn is a bully. He's tough, but times are even tougher. The wimps have stopped coughing up their lunch money. The administration is cracking down. Then to make things worse, Tod and his friends get busted doing something bad. Something really
bad. Lucky Tod must spend his daily detention in a hot, empty room with Mrs. Woodrow, a no-nonsense guidance counselor. He doesn't know why he's there, but she does. Tod's punishment: to scrawl his story in a beat-up notebook. He can be painfully funny and he can be brutally honest. But can Mrs. Woodrow help Tod stop playing the bad guy before he actually turns into one . . . for real? Read Tod's notebook for yourself. Review:
Well, if you’re looking to get deep into the mind of a bully, this ain’t it. (Go check out Courtney Summers instead.) That’s because Tod Munn isn’t really
a bully. Or if he is, he’s a rather benevolent one. He’s also on the honor roll, has perfect attendance, and is a pretty talented seamstress (seamster?). He’s well-read, a fantastic speller, and doesn’t use drugs or drink or even swear.
And okay, yes, this book is written as a series of journal entries from Tod to his guidance counselor so maybe he's heavily editing/putting a good spin on his own behavior. But I just never got that impression. Even when Tod begins writing in his own private notebook, the journal entries don’t become any more explicit. I never felt like he was lying to me…and I love narrators that lie to me.
However, for what this is – essentially the story of a good kid, forced to deal with poverty, absent parents, and teachers who’ve labeled him the bad kid – it’s an enjoyable read. It’s very rewarding to see Tod discover writing as both a release and a way to examine his own life and try to make it better.
I grew up in similar circumstances as this main character. I can still remember clearly all the mortification that I felt at being poor, using free lunch tickets, having no clothes to wear, no food at home, no parents. I remember shame, selfish desperation, and learned resourcefulness. Unfortunately, this book did not make me recall any of those feelings. In one way I am thankful for that, because I don’t enjoy reliving those memories. But this book would have earned more of my respect if it had challenged me.
Everything here feels toned down and oversimplified. Tod’s home life seems hard, but then much of it is explained
away. His bullying, rather tame to begin with, is brushed aside with “mitigating” factors. In fact, Tod isn’t even the real bully…he’s the victim! Of course. The ending is just ridiculous. Tod takes almost no responsibility for anything that he’s done, but when the real
bully is finally revealed, no consideration is given to his/her mitigating circumstances. He/she is just plain mean. So yes…let’s all take a walk in Tod’s shoes and understand just where he’s coming from…but everyone else? Nah. Perfect Musical Pairing
Queen – Under Pressure
This song makes me feel all the emotion about poverty, hunger, and compassion that I think this book is lacking. Put it on after finishing this book if you feel the same way! Or, you could just play it right now…because Queen is one of the greatest bands of all time. You’re welcome.3/5 Stars
How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Publication Date: 10/18/11
Publisher: Little Brown
Blurb (GR): Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends--everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she's somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.
Mandy Kalinowski understands what it's like to grow up unwanted--to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she's sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It's harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?
As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy--or as difficult--as it seems.
Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about the many roads that can lead us home.Review:
Reading Sara Zarr reminds me of that old Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Boy does she know how to do that. Only, she translates every emotion with such stark, raw purity that it feels like I am the one bleeding. Maybe not everyone has been a pregnant teenager with a dreadful home life or a hostile, sarcastic girl who’s just lost her closest support, but I think that it would be hard for anyone not to find something to relate to in these girls.
Mandy and Jill are two girls who want more
. Mandy is eight months pregnant and takes a desperate chance on Robin, a middle aged widow who agrees to adopt her child with no contracts, lawyers, or social workers. Jill is Robin’s daughter, still reeling from the loss of her father only a year ago, and highly suspicious of Mandy and her motivations. These girls couldn’t possibly have less in common, but they are thrown together, and they may end up
impacting each other’s lives in unexpected ways.
Each Sara Zarr novel that I have read features a young woman dealing with conflict in her life and learning to cope, and yet none of these girls feel at all like the same person. Each novel feels original. And that’s true here as well: Mandy and Jill have very distinct personalities and voices. I could relate to Mandy’s insecurity as a potential mother, to her confusion about who she is, to her firm conviction about who she’s not. I could also relate to Jill; to her desperate fear of love and intimacy, after experiencing real loss for the first time.
I like the love interests, but I love that they don’t play a major role in this story. This is a story about Mandy and Jill finding peace and certainty within themselves, and learning to trust. The only part of this story that doesn’t feel quite real to me is the end. But, I think that most of you know by now that I have a hard time with happy endings. What seems incongruous to me, will probably only increase the popularity of this book. Who doesn’t love a happy
ending? SPOILERS AHEAD
Maybe it’s because I could relate so much to Mandy’s doubts that she would be a good mother. That’s not something that goes away as soon as your baby is born and placed into your arms. There’s no magical balm for that. I have had to earn what little confidence I have piece by piece, one bedtime, one meal, one scraped knee at a time. I guess I wanted to see some of that in Mandy – that everything wasn’t magically fixed. And I know that Christopher should be told about the baby, but it felt too much like Mandy seeking for some kind of outside completion, outside validation. She doesn’t need that. END SPOILERS
Perfect Musical Pairing
Mumford & Sons – Timshel
I love this album for these books. This song is such a healing balm, which is something that I think both Mandy and Jill need. It has two distinct phrases, which remind me so much of Mandy and Jill.
Jill:"Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance"
and Mandy:"And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publication Date: 9/27/11
Publisher: Little Brown
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.
When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?Review:
Not just five stars…one million stars, two sister moons, and two pairs of wings in flight. That’s how beautiful this book is. I hope this is a huge hit, and all the kids read it. Listen up kids, this book has everything that you’re looking for: secrets, paranormal creatures, hot guys, best friends; passionate, enduring, forbidden, love…and angst! But unlike all the rest, this one is the real thing.
It’s times like these that I wish I was a real, honest to goodness book fairy, with little wings, a wand, a tutu, and magical powers of course. Kids can simply place whichever one of the mountains of published young adult paranormal romance novels that they’ve purchased in the past few years under their pillows, and I’ll replace them all with this book. Sort of like the tooth fairy. (And after reading this book, the question really begs to be asked: what are you doing with all of those teeth, tooth fairy? WHAT ARE THE TEETH FOR?!)
The beginning of this book is almost lulling in its routine and normalcy. Karou is a young art student in Prague, attending classes, dealing with her obnoxious ex-boyfriend, and going out with her petite best friend Zuzana. She’s a little eccentric, a little odd, but her classmates don’t ask too many questions, and Karou has perfected the art of the non-answer. Her popular journals contain vivid drawings of another world, populated by mythical creatures: part human, part animal, each with detailed traits and peculiarities. “Where do you get your ideas?” her classmates ask, and Karou responds with a trademark little smile and assures them that it’s not made up; it’s all true.
Disquieting little details about Karou’s life are revealed almost casually, and the apprehension grows. Soon the curiosity and apprehension build to outright anxiety and you just have to know. But you don’t want to know. Maybe you think that you’ve already figured out a few things, but "you can’t know until you know.”
Karou’s feelings: her indignation, her terrible curiosity, and her aching loneliness all come across so powerfully and vividly. I think that I felt every single thing that she feels through these pages. I felt immersed
in Karou. And just like Karou, so many details and hints became devastatingly clear to me only after it was too late.
The world that Laini Taylor creates is intricate, bright, original, and it will stretch your imagination. The characters are layered with concealed motivations, and they’re heartbreaking and real. The love story is tragic and intense (and takes advantage of perhaps the only justifiable excuse for instalove). And the writing! Beautiful, emotional, lyrical, shattering…all those words don’t even begin to describe it. This woman can write.
But perhaps the most astonishing thing to me is this book’s complete dearth of cynicism. This book is all about love, peace, and the magic of hope. ”Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
I can’t believe that it got through to me so much, but it really did. I think that it will be difficult for even the most committed of cynics not to be affected by this book.Perfect Musical Pairing
The Smashing Pumpkins – Muzzle
Okay, so I really like it when I can pair up a writer with a specific group. It gives me a nice little feeling of symmetry. The lyrics of this song apply so perfectly to this story, and when I listened to it I even got a bit emotional about the book so that’s always a good sign. “All things will surely have to end,
and great loves will one day have to part.”